• Those 'in the know' about classic films instantly perk up when they see that a film is made by Ealing Studios. That's because this small British film company had a wonderful string of small films that were absolute gems in the 1940s and 50s. Most of these were wonderful little comedies, though pretty much all the Ealing films I have seen have been excellent or even better. Their track record was absolutely astonishing. When I saw this was an Ealing production, I made sure to tune in when it came on Turner Classic Movies.

    Unlike most of the famous Ealing films (such as PASSPORT TO PIMLICO and THE LADY KILLERS), this one is not a comedy but a rather tense drama. However, when I read the TCM plot summary of the film it was very inaccurate. It read "a test pilot thinks back on his past as he fights to survive a burning plane". However, this film is NOT a series of flashbacks (thankfully) and exactly what the pilot (Jack Hawkins) is thinking isn't really investigated until the last few minutes or so of the film! So what is the film all about, then? Well, Hawkins is a test pilot and the plane does catch fire, but once the fire is extinguished it's difficult to control the plane and he circles for about a half hour to burn up fuel. And during all this time the film is told in real-time and shows how many members of the crew (who had parachuted to safety), the airplane company's owner and others react to impending doom for Hawkins--as it appears that successfully landing the craft is a fool's errand! Despite this very simple plot, the film earns a lot of respect and a high score on IMDb because of exquisite acting and especially writing. For the subject matter, the absolute most is squeezed out of the plot and the tension is amazing. It's a great film fill of wonderful character studies and is a whole heck of a lot better than many of the more recent and special effects intensive films we've gotten from Hollywood. Acting and writing--that's what it's all about, isn't it?